It is by now an accepted fact of life that the Internet is having some sort of impact upon the political process…after all, if it wasn’t, would we even be here?
But we’ve all wondered exactly how much impact; and now the good folks at the Pew Research Center have taken the time and trouble to do some survey work that seeks to answer that very question
The logical approach would be to “walk through” the data (which is, frankly, good news for Obama) and see what they have to say about it…but let’s take a different approach today.
Let’s instead look at the data and ask ourselves: who aren’t we reaching, why, and what implications might those answers have going forward—and downticket?
First things first: we’ll be evaluating data obtained from Pew’s “The Internet and the 2008 Election” report (part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project)…and if you don’t regularly visit the Pew sites, you should. They are a fantastic resource for those interested in reality-based reality—and in this election season, reality will matter.
It’s possible to summarize the report’s findings in a paragraph or two, and let’s use that as a jumping off point:
--Democrats are significantly advantaged in this election cycle because of the Internet, and particularly Obama Democrats. This is primarily because voters’ political engagement through the Internet is primarily a function of age and income—that is to say, those who are the most engaged trend to younger age groups and higher income brackets.
--The more someone is politically engaged through the Internet, the more likely they are to use the Internet as something beyond a “reference library”. These “Webitics 2.0” users organize and connect with each other, donate online, forward political messages to others…and even create their own media to advance their political interests (not to mention their “separation anxiety”).
--The trend of increased Internet influence upon the political process has been reinforced over time; and voters in the 2008 cycle are roughly twice as likely to use the Internet as a tool of political involvement as they were in ’04. (As with the rest of the data, however, this trend skews younger as well.)
--These advantages are unlikely to accrue to those running for other offices in this cycle…unless the candidate has an unusually well-educated—or especially young—constituency.
--These results are not particular to either party. Younger Republicans use the Web as well, but since there are fewer Republican supporters in younger age groups Republican-leaning sites tend to have lower traffic numbers.
The facts out of the way, we are ready to turn to the analysis…which brings us to the first question: who aren’t we reaching?
Two-thirds of those from 50-64 years of age, and 85% of those 65 and older do not “look online for information about politics or the campaigns”, the Pew folks tell us. More than 75% of those with a high school education don’t either.
We also aren’t reaching those with lower incomes: 60% of those with incomes from $30-50,000 and nearly 80% of those with incomes below $30,000 do not use the Internet for information about politics. By contrast, if you made $75,000 or more last year (or you’re a college grad), two-thirds of your income bracket is getting information online.
Obama supporters and activity are strongest in places like the DailyKos website, these numbers suggest…and perhaps not surprisingly, older and lower income voters are the voters least likely to be found there.
So where are those voters?
You might think that talk radio is where they are to be found…but that’s where it gets weird. More than 75% of talk radio listeners are college educated, according to Arbitron data—and over 60% have incomes above $50,000. Older voters are listening to talk radio, however, as you might expect—70% of listeners are 45 or older…just about exactly where Obama’s supporters are least likely to be found.
But what about Obama’s other “area of interest”: those with incomes below $30,000, and not college educated?
I can’t offer you an answer based on any real information at all…but here’s a guess based on talking to a few folks who are under 30, and don’t have college educations: at the moment, most of these folks seem disinterested in politics altogether—and that means they’re unlikely to be found online or listening to talk radio.
So what’s an Obama to do?
He may already have part of the answer: concerts. News outlets that are not…shall we say…”Democratic-leaning” have reported that as many as half of the 75,000 attendees at Obama’s Portland, Oregon rally were drawn to the event because of the “opening act”, the Decemberists.
If it’s true, it’s genius.
Try to imagine the last time a candidate attracted to a political event more than 30,000 “outsiders” who were uninterested in politics in the first place.
Another possible solution might explain the decision to not limit his spending: to get to those over 50, Obama will probably have to bombard that group with advertising that appeals to their economic interest…and also counters the McCain “security” advantage within that group. To advance both those messages at the same time, nationwide, will be enormously expensive—but even here we can find data that offers us an opportunity.
Returning to the Arbitron data, we see that the highest proportion of talk radio’s audience is found in the Intermountain West and a bloc of States that consist of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri—and New England. We also discover that half of that audience does their listening at home, not in the car (just for reference, about 1/3 of that audience is listening in the car).
This suggests that the potential exists for large-scale radio buys to have a disproportionate impact in reaching a key audience that Obama seeks to either discourage altogether or possibly convert to his side—and lucky for us, radio is inexpensive compared to TV advertising. Better yet, the states with the highest talk-radio audiences are in relatively inexpensive media markets….or reachable as “cohort” markets serviced by larger markets. For example, a purchase in Boston gets you coverage throughout New England.
What about those farther down the ticket? At the moment, the DCCC is not as flush with cash as Obama, suggesting an interesting scenario indeed: Obama pulls tons of new voters into the system, plus draws lots of interested Democrats.
This “raises all the boats” for downticket Democratic candidates…but it does so by placing those candidates in Obama’s debt, which could be a powerful tool when it’s time to actually legislate.
Is this Democratic advantage likely to erode over time?
After all, it is more likely than not that some of today’s younger Democrats will become Republicans as they age…and it is also more likely than not that those weaned on Facebook will eventually adapt it to the advantage of the Republican cause as they age and gain influence within that Party’s structure.
So what are the lessons here?
We are seeing the rollout of the Internet as a powerful tool of politics—if you’re under 50 and have an income over $50,000.
Over time, that impact should increase as the population using the internet themselves age.
The voters Obama is now seeking to either discourage to convert are not available to him using the tools that have been the most effective for him so far…but moving forward with concerts combined with “carpet-bombing” media markets with TV and radio spots should make those voters more accessible.
If I’m correct, and this is the Obama strategy going forward, there’s one thing we know for sure: considering the amount of money he’ll need to pull it off, there’s going to be no shortage of emails from David Plouffe in your inbox soliciting money from now until November.
BlueNC is dedicated to freedom and fairness for the people of North Carolina. If you share that vision, welcome. If your intention is to disrupt our efforts, please find somewhere else to express your opinions.
Dumbed Down Politicos
Exile on Jones Street
Pam's House Blend
Public Policy Polling
Talking About Politics
Turn NC Blue